Kissing the Virgin's Mouth : A Novel

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-03-26
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vísquez -- wife, scoundrel, courtesan, mother -- is full of contradictions: she believes in love but is suspicious of men; she rejects religion but admires the Virgin Mary; she respects tradition while breaking all the rules. Here, in the Golden Zone of Teatín, Mexico, Magda tells her extraordinary life story -- from a poor Mexican barrio to American affluence, from wide-eyed childhood to worldly courtesan life, from full-blooded youth to oncoming blindness -- and bewitchingly imparts the hard-earned wisdom she has gained through the years.


Kissing the Virgin's Mouth
A Novel

Chapter One

I thank the dark Virgin, morena like me...

There are many who will tell you that the dark-skinned girls, las morenitas, have got no chance. But when I was a girl, I noted the Virgen de Guadalupe, her with the important job of taking care of all the pueblitos, and standing in every home with candles and all the respect, and her own day of Guadalupe with people crawling across the zócalo, and up the cathedral steps on raw knees and singing themselves ronca all night long in the square. She did okay.

I arrived to this world through the splitting little monkey of my mother and I bloodied the hands of Tía Chucha. The name they gave me when I was born was Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vásquez. My mother and aunt called me Chupita, Little Sucker, me always after the breast; Mexican family and friends call me Magda, and my American husband called me Maggie. My saint's name is Guadalupe, so in a way, though I would have been slapped for saying it, I am tocayas with the virgin, we share a name, we are both dark, but I never took her virginity to heart.

In my life, I have added two names and subtracted two from my own and now I am back to my original: Guadalupe Magdalena Molina Vásquez. Vows of love and chimney smoke, the wind soon blows away.

I returned to the place of my birth, to Teatlán, and to my own name thirteen years ago. Mami and Chucha, the ones who called me Chupita, are dead. Now, in the golden zone of Teatlán, the resort city in Sinaloa, in México, I sit in the chair of Tía Chucha on my roof in the good light of the morning sun. The chair is the same. The roof is of a different house. Mine.

When Tía Chucha died, I chipped the mortar that secured this wooden chair to her roof and brought it to my fine house in Las Gaviotas in the golden zone, three blocks east of the sea and just west of Las Gaviotas Tennis Club that contains the shrine to the porcelain miracle, Niñito Jesús. People ask where I reside, and I enjoy saying, "Just west of the miracle baby Jesus." Those from Teatlán know the shrine of the porcelain miracle, and those who are not, smile blankness. I mortared Tía's chair far from the dirty barrio to my own roof in the Las Gaviotas neighborhood, where rooftops of the rich are angled and tiled in rounded terra-cotta instead of leveled cement, where only the smallest section of roof -- enough room for a water tank, a clothesline -- is flat. Here in the golden zone, there are gardens and sea breeze and little need for rooftops. Only servants climb the spiral iron stairs to lift the heavy circle lid from the tank and jiggle the black rubber bulb inside so that the pump will draw water up into storage. But I come here. I have mortared Chuchas chair to the roof to face west, just as she did, toward the Sea of Cortés. I come here out of habit, because it is in my blood to do so. A roof is where my mother died, where my tía escaped, where my father made tejuino, corn drink, where I learned to dance. I come here to remember. To feel gratitude. To see.

The magic of the roof I discovered when I was no bigger than the tip of a little finger -- maybe five -- when my mother sent me to pull down the laundry from the line so that no one would steal it in the night.

"Make many trips," she said. "Fill the basket only a little, bring it down, and empty it on my bed. Then return for more."

Labor was my family's wealth. We had enough bodies and power of muscle to use them extravagantly. We could afford five trips to retrieve laundry. We could afford twenty trips through the house and up the stairs and back to make a washtub of tejuino.

I remember so clearly standing on the flat concrete roof of our house forty-five years ago in el barrio Rincón. The basket sat at my ankles, and I stood behind the curtain of my family's clothes for a moment and felt the pride of a job before I tugged with both hands at the hem of my sister's skirt. It fell to me, and a surge of happy success came as I captured the stiff cloth and contained it in the basket. I sidestepped and pulled at once both legs of my brother's trousers and they too fell to me. Pulling down the skirt and pants revealed Tía Chucha sitting still in her straight-back wooden chair in the last light. She faced the direction of the ocean, her hands limp in her lap. Tía Chucha did not turn her head when I greeted her, or answer when Tío or Abuelito or my cousins called to her from below, "Tía, Vieja, Pocha, Mamita..." Aunt, Old Lady, Ruin, Mother. They each called her by a different name, and each wanted something: a shirt ironed, a drink of water, to slap her for not answering their needs, permission. She sat very still, staring toward the ocean, though she could not see it. From our roof in el barrio Rincón, rebar emerged from the flat cement like the stalks of dead plants. The only ocean visible was one of rooftops where skirts and trousers snapped from clotheslines, where dogs lived and where their shit dried in the sun and scattered in the wind.

Now, from Chucha's chair mortared to the roof of my fine house, I try to see into the groomed gardens of my neighbors. No more do I have the clear vision. Even with my eyeglasses, my sight lacks the sharp focus of youth, but that is not important...

Kissing the Virgin's Mouth
A Novel
. Copyright © by Donna Gershten. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Kissing the Virgin's Mouth: A Novel by Donna M. Gershten
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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